GOSPEL OF MARK
Part of Introduction and Chapter One
According to a well-known tradition of the early church,
Mark was referring to himself when he told the story of "a certain young man"
who followed Christ right up to His entry into the house of the high priest.
When the guards sought to lay hold of Mark, he left the linen cloth that had
enswathed his body in their hands and fled from them naked (Mark 14:51-52). The
fact that no other evangelist records this incident perhaps may not be
sufficient grounds for connecting it with Mark himself. On the other hand,
because of its wide acceptance in early days it may possibly be the truth. In
that case it would imply that young John Mark had listened to the teaching of
the Lord while He was in Jerusalem. Mark's heart had gone out to Jesus so much
that he thought he was ready even to die with Him, but in the hour of testing
Mark fled, as did the other disciples. How many there are who really love the
Lord and yet lack that moral courage that enables them to go through with Him
at all costs!
As we think of this fine young man and the difficulties he faced in getting started in the service of the Lord, let us remember that later on he proved himself an efficient minister of Christ. May we be encouraged to rise above our own fears and shortcomings, counting on God to make us true ambassadors of the gospel of His Son. As we study the record of Him who said, "I am among you as he that serveth" (Luke 22:27), may our own hearts be bowed in lowly subjection before Him. Let us yield ourselves unto the One now risen from the dead, that we may serve in the same lowly spirit that characterized Him when He was in this world. May we be content with the approval of the Father while we pass through this life comparatively unknown and unregarded.
THE SERVANT BEGINS HIS MINISTRY
John Prepares the Crowds (Mark 1:1-13)
Mark began his record very abruptly as he introduced the Servant of Jehovah, and then told us in a very few words of His forerunner and of His baptism and temptation. "The gospel of Jesus Christ" is God's good news concerning His blessed Son who came into this world to reveal His heart to mankind and to offer Himself as the great sin offering for our redemption.
Malachi had predicted the coming of the messenger who was to precede the Lord and prepare the people for His advent. This messenger was the voice crying in the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3) calling on Israel to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. The word rendered "Lord" in Mark 1:3 is really "Jehovah" in the Old Testament passage. So we have here a clear affirmation of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who came in such meekness and lowliness was the everlasting One who had condescended to unite His deity with our humanity, apart from its sin. He came to be our kinsman-redeemer and purchased our deliverance from sin's bondage and the judgment to which we were exposed.
John came baptizing those who confessed their sins and thus professed repentance. He baptized them in the wilderness of Judea, immersing them in the turbulent waters of the Jordan, the river that symbolized death. Multitudes went out to him from all the surrounding and contiguous territory and responded to his message. Their baptism was not in any sense a meritorious act, but it was the acknowledgment that they accepted the message and admitted their need of cleansing and forgiveness. We know from John 1:29 that these penitents were directed to the Lamb of God as the only One who could take away the sin of the world and thus make it possible for guilty sinners to become reconciled to God.
John was an Elijah-like character: a stern and serious man who dwelled in the wilderness and lived the life of an ascetic, subsisting on locusts and wild honey. He did not seek to draw attention to himself but proclaimed, "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and un-loose." John declared that when Christ appeared He would baptize with the Holy Spirit those who received Him. This we know was fulfilled on Pentecost and afterward when the risen Christ "shed forth" the gift of the Holy Spirit, who baptized believers into one body and anointed them for service.
Next we read that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized of John in the Jordan. Mark did not tell us of John's objection and how this was overcome by the Lord's explanation. We read of this in Matthew 3:13-15. The baptism of Jesus was our Lord's pledge to carry on to completion the work He had come from Heaven to perform. His pledge was ratified in Heaven, and Jesus was publicly consecrated to this service when there came a voice from above saying, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." He who had been baptized, thereby identifying Himself with confessed sinners, was declared to be the sinless One.
We have no details in Mark of the temptation, or testing, of Jehovah's Servant. We are told only that immediately (note the word, for it will be found often in this Gospel) the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness, that He stayed there with the wild beasts for forty days, and that He was tempted by the devil. I take it that the Holy Spirit moved Jesus to go into the wilderness in order to be tested. As man on earth He chose to be under the Spirit's direction in all things. It was fitting that He should be tested before He began His gracious ministry. His temptation was not to see if perchance He might fail and sin in the hour of stress, but rather to prove that He would not fail, because He was the absolutely sinless One. Those who impute to Jesus either a sinful nature or the possibility of sinning do Him a grievous wrong. Scripture guards against any such misconceptions when it tells us that He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin"-or literally, apart from sin (Hebrews 4:15, italics added). There was in Him no inward tendency to sin. The temptations were all from without and found no response whatever in His heart.
When Satan left Him, angels came and ministered to Him. He was their Creator, and they delighted to serve Him in His humiliation.
Jesus Calls His First Disciples (Mark 1:14-20)
After Herod had placed John the Baptist in confinement (in the prison of Machaerus according to early historians), Jesus, following a brief stay in Judea, went up into Galilee (John 4:3). There He began His public ministry by preaching the good news that the kingdom of God had come. Doubtlessly referring to the great time prophecy of Daniel 9, He exclaimed, "The time is fulfilled," and He called on all men to repent - that is, to judge themselves before God, and to believe the glad tidings.
"He saw Simon and Andrew.. . casting a net into the sea." These brothers had met with Jesus a short time before, but had not then been called to leave all to follow Him (John 1:39-42). Now they had reached a crisis in their lives when they must make a great decision. Observe that it was the Lord Jesus, not they, who took the initiative (John 15:16). "Come ye after me, and I will make you.. . fishers of men." It is a mistake to attempt to apply these words to all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. He selected these two, and others later, in a special way for a great soul-winning ministry. But we may be assured that all who follow Him faithfully will be used of Him in some way that would not be true otherwise.
"Straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him." Their hearts had already been won for Him. Now, when the call came for fulltime public service, there was no hesitancy. It is true they had not much to leave, but for His name's sake they turned from whatever they had in the way of earthly prospects, and He made them valiant and competent workmen in the great task of winning souls to Himself.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also fishermen, and John at least had known Jesus before. Possibly James had known Him also. It is evident that the Lord Jesus Christ recognized their fervency of spirit and the devotion of their hearts to Himself.
"Straightway he called them: and they left their father. . . and went after him." This was a real test. They doubtless loved their father Zebedee intensely, but they put Christ and His claims first, and so forsook home and business for His sake. Think what Peter, Andrew, John, and James would have missed if they had failed to heed the command to leave all for Christ's sake. They gave up the fishing business to engage in the greatest work ever committed to man - winning souls for Christ.
The Lord called the four fishermen to become fishers of men. He saw that they were expert at and diligent in their work on the sea of Galilee, and He called and equipped them for the higher and nobler service of winning souls for Himself. We are not to conclude from this that all who follow the Lord Jesus Christ will become great soul-winners. Some are called to serve in much humbler capacities. Some have no ability to preach, or even to do effective personal work. But each one is called to serve in whatever place the Lord puts him. Some are called just to suffer for His sake. All can participate in the ministry of prayer and thereby be a real help to those who preach the Word.
Just how much time elapsed between the calling of the four fishermen-apostles and the activities recorded in the rest of Mark 1, we can only conjecture. It would seem that all occurred within a very few days.
Jesus Casts Out Demons (Mark 1 :21-28)
"They went into Capemaum." Our Lord and His mother and brethren had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, and to Jesus it was therefore home (Matthew 4:13; John 2:12). It is called "his own city" (Matthew 9:1). Here He taught frequently and performed many miracles. It was a city privileged above all others in Galilee; yet it rejected His testimony and against it He pronounced one of His most solenm woes (Matthew 11:23). "Straightway on the sabbath day." Punctiliously Jesus observed the sabbath of the law in the way God intended that it should be kept. But He refused to recognize the mass of traditions and legalistic additions to the Scriptures that the rabbis had connected with the sabbath. The rabbis had made burdensome what was intended for blessing. The synagogue was open to Him as a recognized teacher, and He entered into it and taught.
The Synagogue in Israel.
The first mention of a synagogue in Scripture is in Psalm 74:8 (iuv). The last is in Revelation 3:9, where we read of a synagogue of Satan. The word itself just means a place of gathering or assembling together. Unlike the temple, which was divinely appointed, the synagogue was a voluntary display of loyalty to the law of God. The Jews felt the need of such places where they might come together for instruction and fellowship. There was but one recognized temple at any given time, and that was in Jerusalem. There were synagogues wherever there were enough Jewish families to maintain them, and often several were in one city.
As a child Jesus was accustomed to attend the synagogue. He began early to participate in its services (Luke 4:16). Note the words, "as his custom was." He honoured the place where the Word of God was read and expounded, and commanded others to honour the synagogue too, even though those who taught there were not always men of consistent lives (Matthew 23:2-3). May we not learn from Him to respect the place where God's name is recognized and His Word read, even though we may not endorse all that goes on there? We are so prone to go to extremes, either showing utter indifference to evil doctrine or unholy behaviour, or taking a supercilious and self-righteous attitude toward all who do not meet our standards. It is important to realize that while we as individuals are exhorted to cease to do evil and learn to do well (Isaiah 1:16-17), we are not called to ascend the judgment seat and censure others who may be as sincere as we, but do not see everything just as we do. "He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes." These men were accustomed to repeat what their teachers had said, and did not attempt to give any authoritative instructions themselves. Jesus spoke as One sent from God. He did not need to bolster His instructions with quotations from human authorities, but preached the Word as the mouthpiece of the Father, whose representative He was. This was teaching such as the people had never heard before.
"A man with an unclean spirit." The Scriptures plainly tell us of the reality of demon possession. This was not just a Jewish superstition. On this occasion the service was interrupted by a man under the control of a wicked and unclean spirit. "I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." The demon recognized the person and authority of Jesus and feared lest He was about to judge the evil spirits by confining them in the eternal prison house of the damned. Men might be incredulous regarding Christ's claims, but fallen spirits know Him for who He is.
"Jesus rebuked him." Our Lord did not desire testimony from demons. He commanded the spirit to be silent and to come out of the frenzied man. With a last vengeful effort, the demon inflicted further suffering on his poor victim, and then in unwilling obedience to the command that he was powerless to disobey, he left the man free from his awful power. The deliverance was evident to all present.
Those who filled the synagogue were thrilled when they recognized the power of Jesus over evil spirits. They questioned one another as to the meaning of it all and the source of His authority. Never before, as they had listened to the ordinary exponents of the law, had they known such a demonstration of divine approval. One told another of the remarkable thing that had taken place in the synagogue of Capernaum, until the news had penetrated all that part of Galilee. But, as after-events proved, it is one thing to recognize in Jesus a great teacher, prophet, or wonderworker, and it is quite another thing to bow in repentance before God and receive the Savior He has sent, as the Redeemer from sin.
Jesus Heals Many (Mark 1 :29-34)
Originally Simon and Andrew had lived in Bethsaida. It may have been after Simon's marriage that he moved to Capernaum, possibly to share the home of his wife's mother.
"Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever." Everywhere Jesus went there were evidences of the havoc sin had wrought in Israel. Had this people been faithful to God, He would have taken sickness away from them (Exodus 15:26). But as a nation they had failed to obey His Word. Consequently sickness and disease were everywhere prevalent. Seeing the suffering of Simon's mother-in-law, the disciples called Jesus' attention to her, confident that He would relieve the situation.
In tender personal consideration for the poor sufferer, He took her hand and gently raised her up and "the fever left her." There was healing in His touch. His hand calmed and soothed her and brought deliverance from the fire that burned in her veins. In loving gratitude she who had lain there so helplessly, now arose and ministered to others. As the day drew to a close, a motley crowd could be seen coming from every side, bringing the diseased and demoniacs that Jesus might administer His healing power on their behalf. "All the city was gathered together at the door." This is not mere hyperbole. Capernaum was not a large city. From every quarter its inhabitants went to the house of Simon and Andrew, impelled either by curiosity or a sense of need. Alas, the great majority of them never considered seriously their responsibility to Him who had come among them in the activity of His grace not only to heal their bodies, but also to proclaim salvation for their souls. He healed many of their physical infirmities and delivered others from spiritual bondage to demon power, but He refused to allow the wicked spirits to declare His identity, for He would not receive testimony from the hosts of the evil one.
The sabbath on which so many were healed in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-34) may have been the sabbath immediately following the day of the miraculous draught of fishes (Luke 5:1-11). The life of our Lord on earth was one of ceaseless service. This does not imply that He was actively engaged always in teaching and healing. He found abundant time for quiet communion with the Father. Yet none of His disciples were so busily engaged as He. The sabbath day in Capernaum is but a cross section of His entire life, which was spent in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and meeting the needs of men and women. The Father anointed Him with the Holy Spirit so that He might go about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:38) as a testimony to the divine interest in human concerns. In all this ministry He has left us an example. We waste so much time on things that do not profit. He made every moment count for the glory of God. In our lives there is so much that is of no real and lasting value. In all He said or did there was a worthwhileness that counted for eternity.
The teaching and healing ministries of the Lord Jesus Christ were ever intimately connected. The latter complemented the former, and in a sense authenticated it. His works of power proved that He was the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of the world. He performed no useless miracles, no merely spectacular wonders. He was not a magician seeking to astonish people by His mystic power over the elements or the minds of men. In all that He did He had in view the Father's glory and the blessing of mankind. He recognized all diseases, every physical infirmity, as primarily the work of the enemy of God and man, inasmuch as there would have been no sickness in the world if sin had not come in to mar God's fair creation. It was His prerogative to undo the work of Satan and to free sufferers from the effects of sin, both spiritually and physically. He gave to Israel a foretaste of the blessing to become universal when the kingdom of God is set up and mankind is delivered from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:20-21).
Jesus Cleanses the Leper (Mark 1 :35-45)
Following that busy sabbath in Capernaum the servant-Saviour withdrew Himself a great while before sunrise into a solitary place and there spent some hours in hallowed communion with His Father. Prayer was to Him, as man in perfection, the very delight of His holy soul as He talked things over with Him who had sent Him.
As the morning advanced, Simon and others of the disciples came seeking Him. When they found Him, they told Him that there were many others desiring to see and hear Him. It was their thought evidently to recognize Him as King and endeavour to force the issue, as it were, of a break with the Roman government. But for Christ there could be no kingdom without the cross. So instead of going to greet those who sought Him, He quietly said, "Let us go into the next towns." He intimated that He had a ministry to fulfill in connection with the residents of other towns, for He had been sent to preach the gospel of the kingdom to them also. Therefore, the little party went on from town to town throughout all Galilee, and He preached in the synagogues and cast out demons.
As He was ministering in one of these places, a poor unclean leper came to Him. The leper fell down at His feet and asked to be healed of the dread disease. He was sure Jesus had power, but did not know if He was willing to use it for one so definitely under the curse of God, for such was the recognized status of a leper in Israel. He cried, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." With a heart filled with compassion Jesus turned to him in grace, and not fearing possible defilement by contact with one so unclean, He put forth His hand and touched the leper. Jesus exclaimed, "I will; be thou clean." Instantly the miracle was wrought. The leprosy fled away at the command of Jesus, and the former victim of this terrible disease departed rejoicing. Jesus, who had no desire to be hailed simply as a mighty wonderworker, charged the healed man to tell no one of what had taken place. The Lord ordered the man to go first to the priest in the temple at Jerusalem, and there show himself for an examination and offer the two birds and other sacrifices that Moses had commanded, as recorded in Leviticus 14, "for a testimony unto them." One can imagine the wonder and amazement of the priest as this man presented himself for ceremonial cleansing, for such a healing was something unheard of in Israel for centuries.
The healed man could not refrain from proclaiming abroad what he had experienced; and as a result so many crowded to see Jesus that He left the city and remained out in the country. Even there they came to Him from every quarter. It was not in human power to heal leprosy, but what no physician on earth could do Jesus had accomplished by a touch and a word! Leprosy was a constitutional disease. It worked outward from within. Because of its filthiness it is used by God as a picture of the uncleanness of sin.
Every unsaved soul is afflicted with this dread disease and is an unclean sinner in the sight of God. A man was not a leper because he had horrible ulcers and other sores on his body. These were but evidences of the disease within. And a man is not a sinner because he sins: he sins because he is a sinner, and as such he is corrupt constitutionally. Only the power of the Lord can give deliverance.
In the first five chapters of Mark we are called on to consider the response made by various persons to the call and testimony of the Lord during His ministry on earth. Some heard with gladness His gracious invitation to be with Him as disciples and messengers, and readily abandoned all their ordinary vocations for love of Him. Others were hesitant and fearful lest too much might be involved in subjecting themselves to His yoke. Some sought Him out because of their personal needs, whether physical or spiritual; others followed Him believing He was the promised Messiah and desiring to have a part with Him in His kingdom. But whatever the motive that led them to cleave to Him, He received them. Then He patiently instructed them, unfolding the real meaning of His mission and of that kingdom of God which it was the "Father's good pleasure to give" them (Luke 12:32). It was the Father who drew men to the Lord Jesus, and so there was a welcome for all who came (John 6:44).
The welcome of the heavenly Father is just as true today. One may come to Him because his heart is broken and he has learned that Jesus Christ heals broken hearts; another comes because of a yearning that he has sought in vain to satisfy in this poor world; another comes bowed down with shame and grief because of a wicked, wasted life; and yet another comes because he has heard that there is joy and gladness to be found in Christ. But all who come are taken up in grace and given a royal reception. All must come as sinners though, for it is only such He came to call (Matthew 9:13).
Our Lord has no stereotyped way of dealing with souls. He reveals Himself by many different means and works, according to the special needs of each individual. The great thing is that the conscience be reached and the heart drawn to Him. Whatever the reason one may have for coming to Jesus, he can be certain that he will not be turned away. The Lord values loving devotion to Himself.
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